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Seven Kinds of People Pastors Must Learn to Shepherd

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It’s always helpful to know ahead of time what you are getting yourself into, especially when it comes to shepherding God’s people. One of the things that’s helpful to know is the kinds of people you will encounter. I want to share from my own experience and the experience of others in church revitalization, though I suspect that the kinds of people listed below will also be familiar to pastors in well-established churches.

You probably won’t encounter all of the people listed below. Nor is this list exhaustive. But maybe it will help those who pastor these types of people. My hope is that this will help to provide clearer eyes for pastors so that, with God’s help, we might be better shepherds of God’s sheep.

Type 1: The Chaos Maker and Savior. This person creates trouble in the church so that he or she might be the ‘savior’ by subsequently solving the problem. This could involve anything from the deacon who goes through the church breaking light bulbs so that he can replace them to those who stir up dissention among the congregation against the leadership so that he or she can be the peacemaker. Since what often drives this person is the need to be needed, they will create a circumstance where they are needed. As pastors, we want to lovingly shepherd these people to see their identity not in the problems they fix but in Christ. We also want to direct their gifts and efforts in the direction of living for God’s kingdom, not their own.

Type 2: The “Take My Ball and Go Home” Fearmonger. This type of person probably needs little explanation except to say that they are really difficult to serve alongside. Often in a church revitalization there is a leadership vacuum and people like this grab for power, knowingly or unknowingly. The longer they are in power, the longer they are used to calling the shots. But when they are challenged and do not get what they want, they say “if this is the way it’s going to be, I’m leaving.” This way of fearmongering is often their last-ditch effort to salvage their power and influence. As pastors we want to affirm our ultimate calling of following God and being faithful under-shepherds of Christ, not men-pleasers. Maybe some of these types not only threaten to leave, but actually leave. Maybe we are incredulous at how immaturely they act. But we can’t be taken aback. We want to lovingly pursue them to win them to maturity in Christ and thrive in His kingdom.

Type 3: The Nostalgist. This person lives so much in the church’s past. They often say things like “I remember when the church had 400 people in Sunday School and 500 people in morning worship,” or “I remember when people were excited about the choir, visitation, bus ministry, etc.” In short, they reminisce about ministries that were previously healthy and vibrant but are now anemic or non-existent. The pastor’s temptation is to push these people aside and dismiss the comments. But don’t do that. Listen carefully and love them. You can gain a great deal of institutional memory from them that helps you celebrate and honor the past without dwelling in it. You may learn good and helpful principles from these people that you can then contextualize for the church’s current place and moment. So, care for them. Listen to them. View them as gifts. They can prove to be invaluable as you shepherd that congregation.

Type 4: The Weary Christian. It can be tempting to confuse weary Christians with unbelievers when we mistakenly interpret their weariness as being gospel apathy. It takes a Spirit-led, discerning eye to see these weary Christians and distinguish them from the unbelievers in the congregation. These people may have been laboring in the church for decades (maybe longer than you’ve been a Christian!). So view and care for them as runners in the twenty-fifth mile of a twenty-six-mile marathon. They are probably exhausted from all their work but seeing little to no fruit. Provide them a cup of water and a shoulder to lean on as they continue to labor and gain their strength back. Feed them the Word of God and watch their strength return.

Type 5: The Starving Saint. This person is starving from a dietary lack of good biblical exposition. Sometimes, by the work of the Spirit, they indeed realize their emaciation and hunger. Give them the Word and watch them eat. An older, wiser pastor once told me that “hungry sheep bite.” So know that because they suffer from severe malnutrition, beginning to eat well could lead to biting. This is simply part of the work. Be encouraged. They are eating.

Type 6: The Steady Servant. These people can appear as rare diamonds in the rough. They have usually been serving in the church for a long time, and though they may not draw a lot of your attention initially, over time their steady faithfulness will be like fresh air to you. They have served regardless of the size of the church body or budget. These people need encouragement even though their maturity and commitment to the church make them “low maintenance.” Do not neglect them.

Type 7: The Spiritually Immature Leader. Pragmatism often reigns over biblical qualifications. Sometimes people are put into leadership roles for the sole purpose of “getting the job done” without seriously examining whether they meet the biblical qualifications of that role. Sometimes this is merely done out of desperation to “keep the ship afloat.” But the issue of immature leadership will quickly bubble to the surface as you get to know the leadership that is already at the church. This can be one of the hardest situations to find yourself in because it can take the longest amount of time to see changed. While it’s certainly not ideal (and, sadly, is all too real!), we must learn to lead through it. We want that person to grow spiritually as we would any church member. But our leading for that result must be done with love and intentionality. It will drain you in more ways than you can imagine. But it will also yield the greatest fruit and encouragement among the congregation.

Nic Seaborn is the Pastor of Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church in Homewood, Alabama, where he lives with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Darcy. He received his M.Div. from Beeson Divinity School.
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